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NEW YORK: Oil prices edged higher on Thursday as US inflation data reinforced expectations for a June cut to interest rates, supporting the demand outlook, while comments from US President Joe Biden indicating an ongoing Gaza conflict boosted supply sentiment.

Brent crude futures for April delivery, which expires on Thursday, rose 9 cents to $83.77 a barrel by 11:55 a.m. EST (1655 GMT). The more active May contract, was up 58 cents at $82.73. The April US crude contract, rose 65 cents to $79.19 per barrel.

Global benchmark Brent has hovered comfortably above the $80 mark for three weeks, with the Middle East conflict having only a modest impact on crude flows.

However, the conflict shows few signs of abating, with both Israel and Hamas playing down prospects for a truce in their war in Gaza. Qatari mediators have said the most contentious issues remain unresolved.

President Joe Biden said the US was checking reports of Israeli troops firing on people waiting for food aid in Gaza and that he believes the deadly incident will complicate talks on a ceasefire.

A Reuters survey of 40 economists and analysts forecast an average price of $81.13 a barrel for the front-month contract this year. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge, the US personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index, showed January inflation in line with economists’ expectations, keeping a June interest rate cut on the table.

While a June interest rate cut was seen as supporting crude, the prospect of a slackening of the world’s top economy kept prices from moving higher. “At the same time, those cuts are going to come because the economy is slowing and that impacts oil demand,” said John Kilduff, partner with Again Capital LLC.

Reports on consumer and producer prices earlier in February signalled sticky inflation and a guarded approach from Fed policymakers, which prompted investors to push back expectations of rate cuts to June from March. Euro zone inflation dipped further this month, strengthening the case for the European Central Bank to start easing interest rates later this year, data from some of the region’s biggest economies showed.

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